#VoiceFirst: Thinking About Voice Search Optimization

Speech is one of the first skills we learn and one of the last one we lose. A baby’s first word is considered a milestone. “Famous last words” isn’t a saying for nothing–those final words are part of how you’ll be remembered. Spoken language evokes emotions and moves people to action in a way that’s different from visuals or from the written word. The Voice User Interface (VUI) is here: it’s accessible, it’s easy, and it’s part of the future. And with it comes the need for voice search optimization.

Increasingly, instead of texting or typing, people rely either text-to-type or voice recording for messaging instead. By 2020, 50% of searches will be done by voice command. With Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homepod, and similar devices arriving to market, voice search optimization stats are only expected to increase.

You know you need to optimize for mobile, but in the coming years, voice will become just as important. This is especially important for eCommerce sites. Here are three things to consider now for success later on.

We ask questions differently when we say them.

Seems obvious, but we definitely do interact with a spoken search much differently than we do a typed search. Even if we know it’s a computer, we don’t just bark at our devices. We converse. Where we might have once typed in keywords like “best ice cream anchorage”, in a voice search, we interact in a conversational way. The same search would follow suit: “Hey Google, what’s the best ice cream in Anchorage, Alaska?”

Consider semantics.

To that end, the way we attract attention to our page needs to change. Rather than targeting keywords, we’ll begin to shift over to what’s called semantic SEO. The basic difference between keyword and semantic SEO is that it’s built more around meaning than around targeted keywords. In other words, rather than anticipating what specific words people might search, we have to consider how they might ask for information. You target topics, not keywords.

There are no front-page results.

Voice search results are, of course, not displayed on a single front page where the searcher can skim and pick the content they desire. You receive results one at a time, starting at the top. This means that in order to bring your content and your site to the attention of people searching, your content needs to respond to their specific question in a clear, succinct way. There’s no one specific answer to this, but testing will be critical in terms of seeing how your site and content are performing.

Have you been using voice search technology yourself, either as a marketer or consumer? We’d love to hear your thoughts and observations!

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Branded Hashtags

Wondering if, how, or when, you should use branded hashtags? We’ll walk you through it.

When Twitter started in 2006, hashtags didn’t yet exist. In 2007, Chris Messina proposed using the pound sign in August 2007, but Twitter execs found it “too nerdy”. By 2009, they became a Twitter feature used to organize around words, events, and ideas. And today they’ve spread to most major social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, many of them branded hashtags.

If you’re thinking about how to promote, they can be a great way to get attention on you, your brand, or an event. But if you’re puzzled by them, we’ve got a quick guide to whether or not you need one, how to make one, and how (or how not) to use them.

What are they, and do I need one?

Branded hashtags are just hashtags specific to your brand (or a product launch or branded event). The short answer is no, you don’t necessarily need to have one just to have one, but they do help direct traffic and create excitement around what you’re promoting.

When hashtags were originally created, the intent was to create a “channel” specific to those looking for info. Back then, this was for a particular event (Chris Messina used it to create a channel for #barcamp). Today, it’s really not that much different—just much, much larger and used across platforms. If you have a huge event, such as #ComicCon, it’s also used by media outlets to find information and may be listed as trending, along with other related hashtags. 

How do I make one?

This is the fun (or tricky) part, depending. You’ll want to refer back to your brand platform and messaging to make sure you’re speaking in the brand’s voice, of course. But there are other considerations when you’re picking one out.

  • Make it brief. You want something quick, memorable, and readable. Long hashtags are a burden to type out and hard to read, which discourages people from using them.
  • Make it relevant. You don’t want to accidentally direct people to something unrelated, or use something overly generic. For example, Greyhound picked “#FOMOOGLF” (or “fear of missing out on Greyhound low fares”) which… what? Greyhound is the only account to have used this tag.
  • Avoid double meaning. Unless you’re trying to end up on a “hashtag fails” list, really dig deep for ways your hashtag could possibly be construed as any kind of sex act, as with “#loveDP” or Susan Boyle’s unfortunate “#susanalbumparty”. Make sure it reads the same capitalized and in all lower case.
  • Know your current events. Be aware of other trending topics and major news events, and avoid the fate of Entenmann’s “#notguilty” tweet arriving at the same time as Casey Anthony’s not-guilty verdict.

Where and when do I use them?

The best way to use branded hashtags is deliberately. Most readers hate to be clobbered with a long list of hashtags at the end of every post, and your branded tag will get lost in the mix.

But you want it attention, so put it where you have captive or curious attention. Rolling out a new product? Instagram Stories is a perfect place for your audience to see it all by itself in caps. Trying to connect people to your event? Use it in captions on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to create an album for your audience to view. And be sure to monitor their performance and tweak your strategy as needed.

What’s your experience with branded hashtags? Let us know in the comments!

Where Do I Begin…

7 Unusual Places to go for Copywriting Inspiration

You’re sitting down to write copy for your website, blog, or newsletter and… nothing. You’re stuck. Writing can be a drag, and the hardest part is getting started. So where do you go when you need copywriting inspiration? Here’s a hint: not where you’d think.

Seems logical to go see exactly what your competitors are doing, right? Nah. You know what the competition looks like. What you want is to write in character, with vivid description. You want your audience to salivate. 

Let’s go through a short list of places you can go to for better, more descriptive, more resonant writing inspiration.

Horoscopes.

So hot right now. There’s no shortage of astrology-related memes, Instagram accounts, blogs, and sites dedicated to telling you exactly who you are based on your star chart.

The brilliance of horoscope writing, though, is that the writer writes to an archetype. Geminis have two sides and you’ll never know which one you’re going to get. Taurus is stubborn. Earth signs are grounded and reliable, fire signs are, well, fiery. And horoscopes can range from beautiful and elegiac to carefully crafted and comprehensive—but to those who dutifully read them, they are speaking directly to their very essence.

This is a goal the very best copy fulfills, too, which is why horoscopes are a surprisingly good place to turn for copywriting inspiration. 

Food and drink – the niche-r the better.

The deeper you get into food documentaries, food writing, user-generated reviews of cannabis and craft beer, the myriad ways to describe the taste of wine—the closer you get to your audience. “That’s not my audience,” you say? Fair, but you want your audience to feel the same level of connection, the same passion, the same level of expertise the most outspoken sommelier uses in speaking about their favorite orange wine

Satire.

Satire is an exercise in writing as if something was true, and sites like The Onion, McSweeney’s, Reductress do it so well you’ll sometimes see headlines like “How To Value Your Man Even Though He Is Not Terry Crews” shared as if they were real. 

What these publications do right is take a concept so intensely relatable you barely think to fact-check—the feeling is the same as fact. 

Movie plot summaries.

Even if you’re someone who feels the book version is always better than the movie, hear us out. Writing plot summaries can be a single sentence, but they can also be incredibly descriptive. It’s a challenge: how do you best describe what you see, what you feel, what you experiencewithout actually seeing the thing? Which secrets do you keep? How much is too much to share (do you want to convince the person you’re talking to to see the movie)? These are all choices you need to make as well, which is why they make such great copywriting inspiration.

Celebrity profiles.

Celebrities are characters, especially in profile. Because we want to know more, the interest is naturally there. Did you love Cardi B before Caity Weaver’s GQ profile came out? Well, you’re in luck—Caity’s as much of a fan as you are, and details every second, describes her obsession with presidents, her truffle mac and cheese, her glittering manicure, her tone and inflection.

“‘He was the 15th president,’ [Cardi] says, and her tone is as neutral as if she were reciting types of weather. ‘Buchanan is the only president that was a bachelor.'”

Maybe you weren’t really a fan before, but the description, the relatability, the passion—after that article, you are a Cardi B. fan. 

So where do you turn when you need copywriting inspiration? This isn’t even close to an exhaustive list, so let us know in the comments!

And, of course, if writing still isn’t your thing… it’s one of ours! We’re always happy to help.

You CAN say that!

Know your audience, know your message.

Here’s something we sometimes hear when working with clients on verbal identity: “I can’t say that”. Those three little words might be rattling around in your head, too, when thinking about your brand’s voice. And they need to chill out!

This is bigger than just your brand, of course, but for the sake of this article, we want to try to shake “I can’t” from your vocabulary when talking about your brand.

Obviously, there are some topics you would be best-served to avoid, and we all know what they are. But there’s so much people avoid saying out of a sense of “is this appropriate”, “Is this professional”, or “will I lose customers”.

If you’re hesitating, hemming and hawing, or otherwise feeling like you’re walking on eggshells when speaking in your brand voice—you’re in the right place.

Once you’re able to answer questions like “who is my brand speaking to” and “how do I speak to them”, this becomes an easier task.

 

Don’t make it weird.

You know those moments when you’re at dinner with new people, and you’re not saying a whole lot because you’re going over all the ways you could accidentally offend someone?  Your brand does the same thing. It avoids interacting, and sounds stilted when it does try. And your audience picks up on this! Knowing who you’re speaking to and what kind of messaging (from the world, from other brands) they’re used to will help you avoid situations like this.

 

Don’t contain multitudes.

This is the uncomfortable sense you get when your brand has grown in a direction that feels like a giant, fire breathing amalgamation of every voice that’s ever been involved in your brand, EVER. Your brand feels like an oversized Katamari ball. And when you’re trying to say everything, your message is diluted down to nothing. This leaves your audience feeling confused, overwhelmed… generally uncomfortable. If they’re not moving away from you exactly, it’s only a matter of time before something calm and soothing that feels like it’s speaking directly to them sweeps them off their feet – and they’re gone.

 

Focus on the positive

In some cases, there are things your brand simply cannot say. In this situation, it’s best to acknowledge them, take them off the table, and focus on what you CAN say. It can be tempting to comment on every trending topic, but it’s just not always appropriate. So rather than focus on what your children’s book company has to say about Stormy Daniels, save it for your personal conversations, and keep

Sometimes it’s just a matter of feeling like you have permission to, say, use expletives in your marketing, or permission to take a pass on politics when you’re just not a political company. If your audience is younger, or you’re a company like Cards Against Humanity—hell yeah, you absolutely should be swearing!

Do any of these scenarios ring true to you? If you’re struggling with questions of voice and audience, we can help. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Plagiarism or Inspiration: Sticking to the Right Side of the Line

Is it plagiarism or inspiration? If you don’t know, here’s what you can do.

Question: is it actually plagiarism—or inspiration—when you copy and paste from a blog?

Keep reading for the answer.

But first, here’s why the difference is important.

The “plagiarism or inspiration” trap

If you’re like most brands, your blog post writing will follow a predictable pattern: launch with an enthusiastic rush of articles, then taper off and languish.

Why? Because coming up with fresh content ideas is hard!

Posting once a week? That’s 52 diamonds you need to dig up—and unless you’re some kind of wunderkind, you’re going to need to pull them out of a whole lot of coal.

And if there’s one thing about blogging, it’s that the schedule never sleeps. Post on Fridays? You’ll quickly come to dread the end of the week—and spend more than a few anxious Thursdays trying to grind things out at the last minute.

There has to be an easier way, right?

But… Doesn’t everybody do it?

You might be tempted to take shortcuts, “borrowing” everything from blog headline to entire paragraphs of text.

And who could blame you? After all, as the famous quote says, “Talent borrows. Genius steals.” Led Zeppelin famously filched everything they could. Mark Zuckerberg supposedly took a great idea and… Well, you probably know all about that one.

And what about Andy Warhol? Can a painting be plagiarism? (Ask Bob Dylan.)

So with the world’s biggest artists and thinkers apparently stealing left, right and center—what’s wrong with a little grabby-grabby yourself?

Well, everything, frankly—at least in our opinion.

But even if you don’t see anything ethically wrong with coming in on the wrong side of the “plagiarism or inspiration” debate, on the internet you’ve got a couple of things working against you.

Google knows all—which means other people will, too

Search engines like Google and Bing really don’t like duplicate content. And they’re quite smart about knowing where and when a piece of content was originally published, and they actively work to bury copycats.

In other words, don’t plagiarize or your search engine rankings will suffer.

And in case even that isn’t enough to dissuade you, think about this: smart marketers are out there constantly checking for people plagiarizing their work. Tools like Copyscape and Grammarly make it as easy as clicking a mouse, so you have to assume that if you’re up to no good, you’re eventually going to get caught. In today’s increasingly litigious society, that could mean big legal hassles.

So what’s an idea-broke brand to do?

A 5-step process for ethically “borrowing” blog post ideas

You don’t have to steal other people’s work, but you can draw inspiration from it. Here’s a process we like to use that will keep you on the right side of the “plagiarism or inspiration” line.

  1. After you’ve done your blog post research—for example, you’ve chosen a popular keyword, or used a tool like BuzzSumo to find out what gets shared in your industry—take someone else’s headline and reword it. For example, “7 Ways to Find Cheap Stock Photos for Your Blog” could become “Stock Photos: 7 Places to Buy Them for Your Blog For Less.”
  2. Next, expand or narrow the scope of your post—and make changes to the headline accordingly. “7 Ways” becomes, say, 5 or 9.
  3. Then write a summary of the post and outline your main points. It’s OK if your inspiration post and your outline share some material. But you should aim for at least 50% new content, so your version doesn’t discuss too many of the same things.
  4. Let your summary and outline sit for a day or two. You might even consider not looking at the original post again until after you’ve finished yours. This is important, because if you stick to this plan you’ll forget enough about the original that you won’t end up accidentally plagiarizing it.
  5. Finally, sit down and write your post based on the summary and outline you did. Bingo. “7 Ways to Find Cheap Stock Photos for Your Blog” becomes “Stock Photos: 5 Places to Buy Them For Less”—an ethical, original, SEO-ready blog post.

Takeaway

Dry spells happen, and it can be challenging to come up with new material all the time. But although they say genius steals, in reality, light fingers will only invite trouble. Is it plagiarism or inspiration? With a little extra work, you can write blog posts that feel familiar but are still original.